Is addiction about the things broken within us, or is it about helping us feel connected to the world around us?
Have you ever been homesick? Do you know what it feels like? Missing the faces of those you love, missing the feeling of a place that’s yours, a place where you belong. Feeling sad because you are nowhere near a place where you know your neighbors, feeling sad in a place where you can’t stumble upon friends at the local shops, feeling down about not being in a place where people don’t seem like strangers but seem more like acquaintances you haven’t been introduced to yet.
What do you think it would be like if you went home but you no longer recognized the people? What if you couldn’t see the people you love that made home the place that it is? What if your old neighbors were all different people? What if the predominant race of people in this place called home changed from Asian to Hispanic, or Anglo-Saxon to African American? When you went to the local store everyone was a stranger, you didn’t recognize the clerk or the manager? What if no matter how much you walked the streets around home you only ever encountered unfamiliar people. Would home feel like a place where you belong anymore? Would you be homesick in a home you no longer recognize because the people were gone?
I’ve been addicted to cigarettes for the last 23 years and for the last three years it’s been close to impossible for me to give them up no matter how hard I tried. It didn’t matter what I tried – drugs, therapy, hypnotherapy, books and I can’t remember what else but none of it worked. For me smoking has always been a crutch, or at least that’s how I thought about it. When I started smoking it was still socially acceptable. My friends all did it, that’s why I started. When I smoked I fitted in with my friends, I belonged. Later my friends stopped smoking, I made other friends who didn’t smoke, and smoking become socially unacceptable so I adapted. Smoking became an excuse to leave places I didn’t feel I belonged, an excuse to leave a crowd I was nervous in, and an excuse to step away from the office for a minute. Smoking I thought was a crutch for belonging, and later an excuse as to why I didn’t belong, but smoking was far more than a crutch.
For those who have read some of my past articles I’m face-blind, I don’t remember faces. I see faces but I don’t remember them. My average day is filled with strangers I keenly try and work out whether I know them or not. Even today, a quiet day, a day spent with three good people I don’t know very well on a winery tour involves hiccups. It involved a friend waving franticly at me 15 feet away at lunch all because I’d forgotten to memorize what clothes they wore. These things happen; there isn’t much I can do that I’m not already doing. Most people won’t notice, I’m pretty good at winging it when I need to.
You see I don’t always recognize the people I love, especially if I haven’t seen them for a while. My neighbors, if they aren’t standing in their own place I don’t always know if they are my neighbors. When I go to the shops I don’t recognize those around me as being the people who live in my local community. When I walk through a crowd I never notice that these are my people, people who look like they come from Brisbane. I’ve always wondered what people are talking about when they say they get home sick. I didn’t understand, how could you get sad about a place, it’s just a place, not much different from this place, or that place over there. I never knew they didn’t miss the place, I didn’t know that they missed the people. I didn’t understand that you can miss the feeling of belonging to groups of people. I’ve never felt that feeling, that feeling of belonging, strangers are strangers to me; everywhere I go is filled with strangers. I’ve always wanted to belong though, feel like there was somewhere I could call home, but I’m face-blind, there will never be a place I recognize as home. I’ve been homesick my entire life for a place that I will never be able to recognize.
Smoking wasn’t a crutch for me, it was a set of prosthetic limbs, it was two legs that helped me adapt in a world where I had no home. You’d be surprised how many people smoke, at least 15 to 20% of the population still do. These smokers were my family, they became my home. I could go anywhere in the world and there would be other smokers. I could smell them, see them and everywhere they were they congregated and talked. There isn’t a smokers circle in the world where by the second or third smoke a conversation between strangers hasn’t started. It was my way of coping with the lack of belonging, my way of finding those familiar people in a world of strangers. Familiar people smoked. My family, my neighbors and my community could all be identified by a cloud of smoke and a three inch stick.
One of my friends is doing her PHD on enabling people to quit using music. She has dearly wanted to help me but due to certain constraints I wasn’t able to be a part of her research. That is until she sent a questionnaire out to assist with collecting details about smokers and music. There was a question right in the middle, I can’t recall it specifically, but it went along the lines of what is the longest I have been able to resist having a smoke. When I wrote my answer it shocked me.
“I can go for hours without cigarettes when I am with my friends, when I feel connected to them.”
I can go without cigarettes when I feel like I belong. I can go without cigarettes when I don’t feel homesick for a place I will never recognize. It took another hour to sink in and one last smoke before I finally managed to change something in my head. Home is not a place. Home for me can’t be connected to a place. So I changed it. Home is an experience, home is a conversation, and home is a million different memories of the people I know and love. I don’t need to walk down the road and bump into people I know, they are in my head already. In my head I belong, I belong to everyone I have ever interacted with.
That was eight days ago and I haven’t smoked since. I haven’t had cravings, it hasn’t even been hard. I have odd little moments in the spaces where I used to smoke where I will reach for them automatically, but I don’t need them anymore. I had a few weird hangry (being so hungry you are angry) cravings for about 5 days but they have largely settled down. I’m not sure what they were about, whether it’s brain chemistry altering or simply the tail end of withdrawal symptoms. In all the other times I’ve tried to quit I would be halfway out of head trying to smoke by now. I don’t even really think about them in any significant way. I found my home and I don’t need to smoke when I’m home.
If there is anyone else out there trying to quit I know your struggle, I know how hard it can be. I don’t know if this article will help, I hope it does, but this is how I quit. I found the prosthetic limb that smoking had become; found that my addiction was about connection and belonging. When I could see I did belong, that I was connected than I didn’t need the prosthetic limbs anymore, I didn’t need to smoke. Look for the reasons when you don’t need to smoke, when it’s easy to resist, they might show you the way. Maybe you too need to find your home because you don’t yet recognize it.
Source: 30dB.com – Poetry vs Video Games
Photo: Getty Images
*A minstrel was a medieval European bard who performed songs whose lyrics told stories of distant places or of existing or imaginary historical events. Although minstrels created their own tales, often they would memorize and embellish the works of others. The Modern Minstrel observes the world around him and shares it with us as lyrical story. This series was inspired by Luke Davis, whose eye for story and ear for lyrical prose are featured here.
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